Moneybox

Trump Will Spend $12 Billion Bailing Out Farmers Hurt by His Trade War

Donald Trump holds up a "Make Our Farmers Great Again" hat as he speaks at a podium.
Donald Trump at the 2018 Made in America Product Showcase event on July 23.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

What do soybean farmers have in common with Stormy Daniels? They’re being paid to keep quiet after getting screwed by Donald Trump. The administration announced Tuesday that it will provide $12 billion in temporary aid to agricultural producers who have been swept up in the president’s widening trade war.

Trump’s trade policies have faced especially harsh criticism from farmers, as countries like China and Mexico have retaliated against the administration’s aggressive use of tariffs by placing their own taxes on U.S. agricultural exports, including soybeans, dairy, pork, and more. The new bailout package is presumably meant to hush some of those complaints by providing a lifeline to producers whose overseas sales are imperiled. The government is pursuing a three-part scheme in which it will pay farmers directly, buy excess food, and use trade promotion efforts to open up additional foreign markets. As the Washington Post reports, it is being pitched as a specifically short-term effort, “intended to keep farmers afloat this harvest season until what officials predicted would be a successful conclusion to trade negotiations.”

The plan will not require any new money from Congress. Instead, the administration intends to tap the Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corporation, a program created during the Great Depression that can borrow up to $30 billion to keep farmers financially afloat. This idea has already drawn fire from farm-state Republicans, who’ve argued that Trump would be better off avoiding the tit-for-tat tariff battles in the first place. Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts told the Washington Post in April that he had seen the CCC misused in the past, and that while he wouldn’t oppose Trump’s plan, he was unsure how it would work. “I don’t know what kind of cockamamie scheme that we could come up with that would be fair, that would be at least somewhat responsible,” Roberts said.

Nebraska’s Ben Sasse was a bit more colorful today. “This trade war is cutting the legs out from under farmers and White House’s ‘plan’ is to spend $12 billion on gold crutches,” he said. “This administration’s tariffs and bailouts aren’t going to make America great again, they’re just going to make it 1929 again.” Further condemnation came from Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, who reportedly dismissed the aid as a government handout. Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, meanwhile, reportedly thinks other industries set back by tariffs, including her state’s seafood industry, get the short end of the deal: “What about the manufacturing sector? What about the energy sector? The oil and gas industries?”

These complaints might be a bit more compelling if congressional Republicans were willing to take anything other than symbolic action to reduce Trump’s authority on trade. But so far, that hasn’t happened. Instead, Trump is free to stoke a trade war and throw money at farm interests in Wisconsin and Iowa to deal with the blowback. Tariffs. They’re the greatest.